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Don't Close Your Blog If You Don't Like The Comments

Oracle Provides Valuable Lesson In How Not To Engage Customers

Here's a customer service lesson in how not to manage your blogs, courtesy of Oracle Corp.

After investing time, effort and money into creating and promoting a customer support blog, and earning the trust and readership of the user community, Oracle decides to flip the switch and turn it off.

A case of innovative customer service or cutting off your nose to spite your face?

Oracle pulled the plug on a popular user support blog written by Oracle employee, Chris Warticki. Now Oracle customers and readers seeking its advice receive an (un)welcome page indicating the blog can no longer be reached. The sudden disappearance of Warticki's Oracle support blog was highlighted by ERP industry analyst and consultant Frank Scavo in a blog post on Scavo's site, The Enterprise System Spectator.

Scavo blasted the company's short sighted move. "Oracle needs to realize this is not 1999, or even 2005," Scavo scolded. "Customers have ways of communicating about problems, whether Oracle likes it or not. Better to participate in the conversation and have an opportunity to shape it than try to stymie it. In fact, attempts to stifle the dialog only gives such problems increased visibility."

Well said. Oracle's blog debacle was also referenced by ZDNet blogger Dennis Howlett, who wrote that Warticki had been providing quality tips and advice for Oracle users on the now-closed blog. Howlett quoted another blogger, RNM, who explained the situation.

"Warticki posted last week If MOS (the My Oracle Support site) is down, then what?, and maybe this was the final straw," RNM summized. "How can an Oracle blogger post something that acknowledges that My Oracle Support is fallible? That a system that people pay a lot of money to use is not only dog-slow because of an awful flash-interface, but that it's actually UNAVAILABLE?"

RNM also wrote that the comments section on Warticki's blog "gave a platform to a lot of people raising grievances about Oracle's support platform, and maybe that disturbed the corporate PR monster too. No adverse comments equals no problem, right? So the blog's gone (although it still exists in the ghostly whispers of the Google Cache, but for how long I don't know), and with that the Corporate dignity of Oracle is restored, maybe to the relief of their PR department but to the loss of those of us reliant on actually using and implementing the products they sell and need support for. Even if MOS were perfect, then having an insider communicating with us plebs on things like escalation processes is invaluable, and a great way of enhancing people's perceptions of the company and the support it offers. As it is, MOS is far from perfect, and there's a lot of unhappy folk out there."

Scavo went on to write that the whole situation is evidence enough that the blog was effective and got people talking about Oracle and its products; just not in the way Oracle expected.

"For example, I would not have even known about problems with My Oracle Support had Oracle not shut down Warticki's blog," Scavo blogged. "But now, here I am writing about it, and this post will soon go out to my 1,300 plus email list, many of which are Oracle customers and partners."

So what should we take away from this business lesson - if this were your corporate blog? At the minimum, it first begs the question to Oracle: What were you thinking?

If Oracle killed the blog because it was "controversial," then they're uninformed. That type of commentary is helpful to a blog as it allows discourse, discussion and engaged conversation. It's called "having a discussion."

If the customer support blog was shut down because Oracle didn't like its customers' comments or complaints and wanted to stop them from posting their angry responses, they again uninformed, and this time should be ashamed. Instead, they should have compensated an online outage with increased call center agents on the phones, or even began an outbound campaign to call customers personally to proactively provide assistance and help them solve their problems. That's why customers are paying for support in the first place.

And if Warticki's thinking outside the corporate box and spoking from his heart threatened Oracle or the enterprise software giant wasn't otherwise appreciative of such an approach, they're again uninformed, and perhaps mad. The whole idea of a blog is to think and discuss, even when such thoughts and discussion aren't mainstream or off the beaten path. Let your bloggers blog and have a thick skin sometimes. Show you can take some heat and you're not afraid to learn from your mistakes.

These are the kinds of activities a social company should be promoting, encouraging and rewarding, not shutting them down when they hit too close to home.

Other blogs remain available on Oracle's Web sites, but for any company that represents itself as a provider of social media and social CRM solutions which help Oracle's customers engage their customers, the closing of a blog strikes me as an odd, counter-productive move.

A valuable lesson learned for all as you contemplate or continue your company's blogging efforts. Say what you mean, mean what you say and stand behind it all, even when the going gets tough. That's a business with character.


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